Category Archives: The Game

Devagar, Devagar…

…Capoeira de Angola é devagar!

historyCapoeira2

The aim of this post is to highlight an important, but often overseen aspect of Capoeira Angola. I myself do oversee it far too often and while I was thinking about it the idea came up to make a blogpost out of it. The aspect of Capoeira Angola I want to point at this time is “playing slowly”.

The speed of your game

Most people do know that Capoeira Angola is generally played in a slower pace than Capoeira Regional. In fact, some people think that Capoeira Angola is just the slower version of Capoeira Regional. I wont go into that one, because most of the fans and players of Capoeira know that it’s not right anyway. Some people also know that Capoeira Angola games are highly variable in terms of speed. A game can switch from slow to fast to slow in less than ten seconds. That Capoeira Angola is always slow is a common misunderstanding which usually leads to some unpleasant surprises. But, and that’s what this post is about, it is still an important attribute.

Why?

There is many different reasons why Capoeira Angola is played in a slow base rhythm. I will just count the most common (and obvious) of these:

  • Endurance: As a typical game in Capoeira Angola goes into the minutes and can easily go on for more than 10 minutes a high pace is not recommendable. In comparison, games in some Regional rodas are incredibly short, sometimes it’s a matter of a few seconds until you get bought out. This short timespan forces you to get into a game as fast as possible. If a game in a Regional roda would take 10 minutes retaining its speed, most people would drop unconscious 😉
  • Safety: A Roda is not always a safe place. In Capoeira Angola your space is petty limited. It is almost impossible to be not enangered when a person in a two-meter-diameter-roda does make a fast kick. For the safety of you and your partner it is recommandable to slow down the game, even if it gets faster in between. And even if you dont care much about the other person you are playing with the rule applies “what goes around, comes around”. Play fast and you will get a fast response. Thus, it is sometimes just smarter to play at a slower pace.
  • Aesthetics: Players of Capoeira do regularly state that Capoeira Angola is much more expressive and playful than Regional or Contemporean Capoeira. This would not be possible in a high speed game. The higher the speed of the game the more people (especially beginners and not-so-advanced players) concentrate on not getting hit, hitting the other person and maybe even performing a good game. And the first things dropped would be the playfulness and the individual expressions you can do in a roda. Thus, a too fast game which keeps on staying too fast is often seen as an “ugly game” Angola roda, more because of the lack of grace and mandinga than because of the speed.
  • Precision: Here I will quote my first teacher. During training he liked to tell us “I have you rather doing the movements 3 times right than 30 times wrong”. He used to say this when the students sped up in training and started being sloppy with the movements. This does easily apply to a game. The faster a game is the less time you have for precise movements, the sloppier you get. That can lead to accidents involving you and/or your partner. Or, it can just lead to the movements looking short, uncomplete, ugly. Having time during the game does give you the chance to do your movements right, precise and with grace.
  • Health: It is indeed healthier to play slow than to play a fast paced game. This does count for the individual game as well as on the long term. Why? The faster the game the higher is the danger that you dont listen exactly what your body tells you. An Au you might go into might be started wrong and risking your back or your limbs. In a fast game the chance to correct this fault is lower than in a slow game. For example: in an Angola game which was a tad too fast a friend of mine did almost cripple himself doing an Au malandro (I think some people call it an Au batido). He had so much speed that his upper arm moved forwards while his hand was planted and his upper body falling backwards – to make it short: for a split of a second his elbow was on the wrong side of the arm… In terms of longterm effects of fast playing wearing off of knees and wrists is one of the most prominent Capoeira illnesses. Jumps and rapid stressing these vulnerable body parts do have a bad effect in long term (although: I am talking here out of a mixture of experience and pure logics. I have no statistical or medical data for this. But it would be interesting if somebody would investigate this!)

Counting in the music

An obvious reason for playing slow in the Roda de Angola is that it otherwise wouldnt fit to the music. Most people know that a game is not an exact representation of the Berimbau’s rhythm played in the Roda (meaning, the steps and kicks dont come in the same rhythm as the berimbau is being beaten). But there is a linkage between the music and speed of the game. The players have to follow the music in this case. Thus, when they speed up and dont turn back to a slow pace while the music is slow the whole time, they will most possibly be called to the Pé do Berimbau and reminded of playing slowly. Or they will hear the song “Devagar, Devagar”. Here is the lyrics of this song (not exactly what I learned but nicely written down by Mathew Brigham (Espaguete) in his very good “Capoeira Song Compendium“)

Devagar, devagar                                              Slowly, Slowly
Devagar, devagarinho                                       Slowly, very slowly
Refrain: Devagar, devagar              Slowly, slowly
Cuidado com o seu pezinho                           Be careful with your foot
Capoeira de angola é devagar                     Capoeira Angola is played slowly
Esse jogo é devagar                                          This game is slowly
Eu falei devagar, devagarinho                    I said slowly, very slowly
Esse jogo bonito é devagar                           This pretty game is played slowly
Falei devagar, falei devagar                        I said slowly, very slowly

This song is sung to a slow rhythm, which makes it almost impossible to be ignored by the players. And if they do so, it usually results in being reminded specifically/personally, or just asked to stop that game.  So why does the music then have to be so slowly? Well, first of all, it’s a question of taste. Capoeira Angola music is slow to medium paced, with a lot of different nuances and a rich sound. This does come because a) the presence of 7 instruments incl. 3 differently pitched berimbaus gives a very rich acustical caleidoscope and b) the low speed of playing allows for wonderful variations (especially of the Berimbau Viola). I know, for a lot of modernist Capoeiristas it is too slow, but people wont understand that keeping a rich sound and keeping a slow pace is actually much harder than just beating the crap out of your berimbaus and drums. I speak out of experience that keeping the rhythm slow is harder than just playing a fast rhythm. And, as in Capoeira Angola slower games are preferred, the Bateria does control this by controlling the speed of the music.

How to achieve a slow game

Now, this is the most complicated part of this post. Because, to be sincere, I dont know a perfect recipe to keep your speed slow. I too get faster while playing and I guess I am not alone in this. I guess it is the same as with drumming. The natural tendency seems to be that you want to get faster. You might start with a slow rhythm (in playing or in music), but if you dont take care of it you will get faster. I want to point out that it is not bad to become faster. The player just has to know when to get back to “normal” speed again and when being fast helps, and especially when it doesnt.

Thus, the simple (and admittedly not very helpful) answer is: focus. Concentrate on te speed of your movements. Not too slow, but also not hastily. Before you can do that you have to get used to play in the Roda of course, and get secure. Thus it helps when you are not a pure beginner in Capoeira Angola. This doesnt mean that if you are a beginner you are free to play as fast as you wish. You can immediately start concentrating on playing slowly. But if you lose your focus on playing slow, dont worry, try harder next time. As a beginner you usually just dont have the peace of mind to play slowly yet. You get nervous, you get hasty. Being calm and relaxed is key here.

It also helps to be a bit mature. When you want to impress, show off, make fun of a your partner and have similar immature ideas about playing you usually dont go for the slow movements. But maturity is something you cannot train. That comes by itself, hopefully.

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Surviving a Capoeira Angola Roda II: Space

roda

Some of those who know my blog might know the title of this post, at least its first part. Most things to know about surviving a capoeira angola roda were already posted in one of my first posts. Today’s post is about a certain aspect of a Capoeira Angola game. But this aspect is also something many people have to get used to. I hope this post will help in that process.

According to Mestre Moraes the aim of the Game of Capoeira Angola is movement itself. That is, maximizing your own and minimizing your opponents possibilities to move. One might say now “wait, that’s not the only purpose” and yes, that’s right. But, and that’s why I write about this topic, it comes up every now and then. With this post I will give you some hints, what to look for when you are in a Capoeira Angola Roda, but most importantly this information is for you so you dont panic when you feel cornered. Because, if you know what’s going on, you can start thinking about the way how to get out. And not panicking is a good step further on the way to a better game, no?

Geometry of a Roda

Ok, so now the big news, a Roda is a circle. At least almost a circle. On one side of the circle there is the Bateria. And the rest of the circle consists of people. The people observe your game, give energy by singing along and do define the boundaries of your game. These boundaries shouldnt be crossed.  Entrance to the Roda is defined by the edges of the bateria. And entrance into the game is defined by the spot in front of the Gunga. So far  most of these things are things you people already know. Some people who already have seen a Roda de Capoeira Angola will also be able to tell that in a Capoeira Angola Roda people are sitting or crouching in the circle. This helps keeping the circle tight and at one position. More important is that Capoeira Angola circles are usually smaller than circles of Capoeira Regional and Contemporeana. A diameter of about 2 meters or 1.50m (sometimes also only 1 meter) is a good size for a capoeia angola roda. The advantage of this size is that there is actually no space to keep out of reach. One step forward and you are close enough for an attack however the positions where before. This forces both players to play and react properly (on the otherside, usually you also have more time to do so, because too fast games are not liked much in capoeira angola). The knowledge about the dimensions of the Roda you are in is important. Also the knowledge that it’s a circle.

Movement

Capoeira has a lot to do with moving around. The Ginga and the Au are the first things you learn in Capoeira. And that is for a reason. There is only few things more boring than a game between two players who stay at their positions. It then resembles one of those 90’s computer games like “Mortal Combat” or “Street Fighter”, where player A is right and player B left. All the round kicks and turns and other movements of Capoeira do make less sense when you only have one direction to take care of (your front). So the first thing to know about the “Space Game” in Capoeira (Angola) is: you are mobile. As simple as it seems, some people panic and freeze at the spot. Although it might not be bad to stay at a spot sometimes, it definitely makes their game less fluent and thus, less attractive. The Roda being a circle does want you to move around each other.

Center vs. Edge

In a circle, and especially while playing Capoeira, there is only few preferred positions. (As a side remark, if you are playing outside, you can try to let your opponent face the sun over longer terms in the game. It’s not exactly fair, but well, life is a bitch! 😉 )

The preferred position I am talking about is the center of the circle. In an ideal game between equal partners the game will be very balanced in terms of attack, defense and moving around the center. Most players do regard the center as ideal place in the roda for following reasons:

1. You can move in any direction, left, right, forward (to your partner) and backwards (away from your partner).

2. Your partner/opponent has less opportunities, because behind him there is the edge of the roda. So moving backwards is less of an option.

3. when you stay in the center most of the movements of your opponent will be left or right, which leads to him travelling around you. He is making more meters in the game than you are (because in the center you only have to turn around), which can, in a longer game, be extremely tiring.

On the other side it’s good to know that it’s not a shame to be on the edge. Yes, when you were forced to the edge it’s a sign that the other person did dominate you, but in Capoeira you get dominated once and the next day you dominate, and the other day nothing happens. As long as you dont panic on the edge the game is not lost. And the better you are the more opportunitues you will find to get away – or to gain dominance over the center.

The Art of Cornering

Cornering is a step further than just forcing somebody to stay on the edge of the Roda. Cornering is the art keep the other player close to the edge and to hinder him from moving sideways too, until he a) finds a way out, b) submits by standing still until you let him go or c) does make such a mistake that he could get a Rasteira, Cabecada or some other “finishing movement”. It’s not the nicest way to play with your partner (and some people might get annoyed or agressive because of such a game), because it is almost equivalent to a Rasteira. You stop the possibilities of your partner to move. On the other side, a Rasteira is usually much more spectacular than plain cornering, which is the reason why some people disregard cornering as bullying and playing unfair.

But cornering itself is an art because of two simple facts: a) the Roda is a circle and has no corners and b) touching is not much allowed in Capoeira Angola, so the most effective way to force a person into a corner – by strength – is not allowed. Cornering is something which needs skill, you have to learn it. Here are some tips how to corner (the best tip is to learn it at training):

1. Cornering by size: the bigger you make yourself the harder it gets for the other to get out. When your partner is on the edge and on the ground, standing up is an option (and a danger too, cause a Rasteira or Tesoura might end your attempt). You can also move and place your legs in the possible directions your partner might take, thus hindering him from his escape.

2. Cornering by speed/experience: When you are faster than your opponent you can just move into every direction he just wanted to move. This is not so easy, cause at a certain speed you will not be able to distinguish a feint from a real attempt to escape. And when you speed up your partner will speed up too. This will eventually spiral up to a speed where you will hear the Berimbau calling you cause you have been too fast. Experience helps more in this terms. This includes the ability to read the other player. When you know what he is gonna do then you dont have to be fast to be able to block that movement.

3. Cornering by psychology (or Mandinga): The best way to corner a person is making that person believe there is no way out. Either you scare that person by a sudden change in speed level or you distract him by a certain smile. Or you just look into a certain spot in a way that he thinks you gonna go there. Or you just dont look at him anymore (keeping an eye on him on the edge of your sight) which makes him nervous or at least ignorant about your motivation. These are only a few possibilities I can think of. And I guess that there are thousand others.

The Art of Escape

A good player does not only know how to corner somebody, but also how to get out of that. The ways to get out of there in a nice way are easily described, but all of them do need one premise: no panic. If you dont panic, and this accounts for the whole game, you cant do much wrong. Because if you panic, you will react instinctively, which can be wrong. Some of those reactions are letting yourself fall, run out of the roda, starting to grap the opponent, knocking him out, run against your partner, and stuff like that. All of them are ways do get you out, but with that you are killing the game. So which are the ways to get out of there?

1. Escaping by refusing: You can stop moving. OK, this is actually submitting yourself and giving up, accepting that the other person did corner you and that you are not able or willing to get out. At a certain point, your opponent will have to release you (otherwise the game will have to end). It’s not the best way to get out, but it’s far better than using brute force – or falling out of the Roda.

2. Escaping by fighting back: There are several movements which can help you get out of the corner. All of these are attacks which make your opponent back up or move another way. Those movements dont work always and with every opponent, but using them is often very secure and leaves you with more space at the end than before. These movements are: Tesoura, Cabecada and Chapa de Costas (amongst some other). All of these are simple movements, and that makes them so effective. On the other side, there is always the possibility to get a counter-attack, so dont think that they are optimum solutions.

3. Escaping by Blocking: A major part of cornering is hindering a person to go this way or that way. But this game can be played by both. This will eventually lead to a Remis situation, which wouldnt improve the dynamics of the game but would definitely improve your own situation.

4. Escaping by intelligence: finally, the best way to escape is also exactly the best way how to corner a person. By anticipating, by experience, by wit, by Malicia and Mandinga. If you are experienced and dominant enough you can make the opponent think you will definitely go there. Thus, if he tries to block that possibility he has to open up other possibilities.

Finally, you have to realize that this is only part of the game. It’s important and some of these hints are both smart in Capoeira Angola and Regional/Contemporeana. And, I know I repeat myself here, dont panic!

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Is your Corpo Fechado?

verger-capoeira-26454

Capoeira is not only a martial art, a dance and a game. It comes along with its cultural background, which developed in the Afrobrazilian circles of Brazil and spread all over the world. It’s like HipHop, or like Yoga. It left it’s national and cultural boundaries and spread to places where some parts of it’s culture might be less well understood than others. Some interesting thoughts about cultural differences in the practice of Capoeira are given in a post by Mandingueira on her highly recommendable blog www.mandingueira.com. Even in Brazil many connotations and aspects of this art get lost due to old mestres dying and their knowledge usually dying with them. Here in Europe or in the U.S. or in Asia only few pieces of this culture are learned. This is why once in a while I come along and try to explain some of the words which you will hear in connection to capoeira. I’m not Brazilian and my connection to Brazil is solely because I love to play Capoeira Angola. So all I can give you is my limited view on some parts of Capoeira culture. If you know better, feel free to correct.

After this short intro I will now come to the question given in the title. Is your Corpo Fechado? For all those who dont know Portuguese, Corpo Fechado means “closed body”. in Capoeira, and in related Afrobrazilian cults like Candomblé, Corpo Fechado does have an important meaning. I will try to explain both the secular and the spiritual meaning of this word.

Corpo Fechado – in the Roda

The closed body in the Roda is a basic principle of Capoeira. Everybody learns it from the very beginning without having to know that they are actually working on a ‘closed body’. The Corpo Fechado in the Roda is your defense, most basically your hands and arms protecting vulnerable parts of your body. These parts are especially your face, neck, chest and lower torso.

Already doing the Ginga does demand the player to keep up his defense every time his body is moving forward. One arm always protects the face. If not so the danger of getting a kick or slap into the face is imminent (I wont judge now how nice or fair it is to kick into the face of somebody whose face was unprotected… that’s another topic). The same does account for every single movement in Capoeira. And also both in traditional and modern variants of the Game. Some Mestres do complain that in modern variants due to a higher distance between players the necessity of a “closed body” decreases. In Capoeira Angola on the other side, a closed body is a necessity – and in every second of the Game a hole in your defense can be used by your partner.

I dont want to scare you people away. And I also dont want to show you just the one side of the coin. Modern Capoeira and Capoeira Angola do allow you to show apparent “entrances” into your body. In the ideal case sometimes you might seem absolutely helpless with you body wide open. And still be able to close the body when it’s needed. That is to lure your partner into a situation where he thinks he has you, and showing him that that is not so. One of my favoritue Capoeira Angola pictures is the one posted below where the player in white seems absolutely helpless. Still, his partner does not fall into that trap keeping up his defense, knowing that a good player can defend himself in whatever position he is.

corpo fechado

But dont forget one essential thing about capoeira. That it is not about concentrating on one thing. Corpo Fechado is a set term in Capoeira culture, but it is not the only thing. Theoretically you could have a perfect defense, but still be absolutely horrible in playing Capoeira. Thus, Corpo Fechado is one part of Capoeira, a part everybody should know of, but not the above-all most important part of it.

Corpo Fechado – in Life

Corpo Fechado does also have a very religious connotation. In Afrobrazilian practises achieving Corpo Fechado is possible through specific rituals and by wearing amulets. Having a Corpo Fechado means being invulnerable against all kinds of physical attacks. If it’s knives or bullets. The most favourite person to have had a Corpo Fechado was the Capoeira legend Besouro Manganga. Manoel Henrique Pereira (1897-1924) was a legendary Capoeirista and criminal in Santo Amaro, Bahia. He was known and loved by the folks for his fights with the police. In times of danger he would transform into a beetle and vanish from the place. He was also known to be invulnerable – or only vulnerable by an enchanted wooden dagger (made of the Tucum-tree), which was the reason for his death in 1927.

But the Corpo Fechado does exist outside of Capoeira aswell. As I said, it is part of Afrobrazilian culture. The rituals and ideals behind this go back into Kongolese religious practices, where there was the belief in Kanga Nitu. Kanga Nitu was “binding your body” thorugh rituals protecting it from evil spirits. Other rituals did include the use fetishes and amuletts – socalled Nkisis – against arrows from enemies in times of war, or for a successful hunt (among many other uses). The ideas of Kanga Nitu and corresponding rituals came along with the slaves and still have an influence on Afrobrazilian culture.

One part which is to be mentioned together with it are the patuás, the amuletts which protect the faithful from all kinds of physical harm. These amuletts did contain a diversity of herbs alongside with prayers written into them. But it obviously doesnt seem to be enough to just wear a Patuá around your neck, you also have to know your prayers and rituals, and what is forbidden and what not. Basically, you have to believe and know the religion before you start “protecting” yourself with a Patuá. As the proverb says: “Quem nao pode com mandinga, nao carrega patúa.” Roughly translated: Who doesn’t know Mandinga, should not use a Patúa. Today a lot of people do carry a Patúa without actually believing in it’s use. It has become a part of Capoeira fashion. I personally do not believe in the effect of a Patúa, but I still would strongly recommend any person who carries a Patúa to learn about its implications. Even if he/she does only see it as a fashionable accessoire, it is still of use to know what you are walking around with.

There are also certain ways to “open” the body of a person, even when that person does have a “Corpo Fechado”, this does include the use of enchanted weapons (as it was in the case of Besouro Mangangá). But also the person himself can cause his “protection” to fail. One known way is to have sex. Some traditional Mestres dont recommend practising Capoeira after having had sex the night before.

So, the next time a mestre screams at you to “fechar o corpo” he means that you should keep up your defense. He usually does not mean you to be abstinent before you come to his class or to wear a Patúa, because as Capoeira does spread around the world, there will be more and more practitioners who do not believe in Candomblé or into any Afrobrazilian manifestation of those ancient Bantu traditions. Still, even if you dont believe in them, it’s useful to know about it – and even if it is only to comprehend more what we are doing, playing Capoeira.

Picture sources:

http://www.ele-mental.org/capoeira/TABCAT/aboutcapoeira.html

http://albenisio.spaces.live.com/blog/

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The Joy of the Unknown –

or: Visiting an unknown group/Roda…

Let’s face it. Most of the time a Capoeirista does spend his time with Capoeiristas he knows. He plays in Rodas where he  knows the rules. Most of the time, we spend or time in our groups. That is where we are most secure and thus, most confident. Even when we go to other places, most of the time, we take people with us. We have somebody to rely upon. We know, there is someone who is on my side.

But then there are the rare occasions where the only one on your side is you. When you visit another group. These are not the most favourable situations. It is pretty unsafe, sometimes. But it does have its own fascination.

Since a bit more than one year I had the possibilities to visit different groups and every time I visited a new group there was this great feeling. Something in between excitement, curiosity and fear. This feeling is especially strong if you are going alone. Because then it is only you you can rely on.

Here a couple of hints for the next time one of you people visits a new/unknown group:

1. Always try to make first contact before you arrive at their Roda or Training. It is a demonstration of respect if you ask the responsible person beforehand if you are allowed to come or not. The possibility that the teacher will say “no” is low, but this should not stop you from showing your respect.

2. When you arrive at the Roda/Training do try to make first contact with the teacher/mestre as soon as possible. This should happen before the Roda/Training started. Do tell who you are, where you are from and who was your teacher (these are the most interesting pieces of info the teacher will want to have). In this situation it is helpful to a) refer to a mail/phone call you made before and to b) refer to a teacher/mestre of yours that is known. Usually a teacher/mestre does respect other teachers, although they might not always be of the same opinion.

3. Do not insist on playing in the Roda. Humility is the word of the hour here. As you are a guest you do not insist in showing your skill in the Roda. The first thing, if there is a roda, is to offer playing an instrument. Do not grab the next berimbau unless the teacher said so. Offer to play one of the percussion instruments, like the pandeiro, the reco reco or the agogo.

4. Do not show off. One of the most important rules. It is never smart to show off when you are in a unknown roda. You as a stranger do have the attention of everybody anyway. So whatever you do will be measured and rated. Of course the more you show off the higher is the possibility that they try to find out where your limits are. If your limits do not go farther than your show off abilities than you are done and everybody will just remember “the show-off who came the other day and was at his limits in 10 seconds…“. Another reason why you should not show off is that you should always have a good pool of movements for the times when there is somebody who really wants to test you.

5. Do not expect to play the teacher/mestre. It never happened to me that the first game I had in a new group was with the teacher or mestre. Usually they did send somebody else in and watched my game before they decided to get in or not. This is absolute logical. A teacher/mestre does know that there are a zillion of capoeiristas out there with a lot of abilities. A stranger coming into there group could be a bad-ass violent maniac or just a semi-beginner with a couple of show off qualities. As the teacher does have the responsibility over the group he does take the tactically smartest option, which is seeing first what kind of player you are and then deciding if they go into the roda or not.

6. Try not to play hard.I know a couple of you people does play hard on others on a regular basis. Some of you people didnt learn it another way. And within your own group it is ok. Even when you are a bit harder on one or the other colleague the possibility that you get beaten up in your own group because you are too hard is quite low. There are other ways to tell you to loosen up, like your teacher just telling you this in a quite minute or two. But when you are visiting another group you cannot assume that they have the same rules. So the best thing to do is playing soft and see what kind of game the these people have. Actually it is even better to first watch their game and see if you really like to join or not. The problem is that most groups do have a different game in public presentations and during training. So do not assume that a group who has a soft game during a presentation will also have a soft game in their Roda.

7. Do not get nervous or sensitive when you are in the Roda and you realize that the people are playing hard on you. Or when you are playing an instrument and the teacher does correct your music, dont be oversensitive. It cannot be a personal issue they have with you, because they do not know you. If they are unfriendly, well, then you at least know that this visit was your last. And if you can save your face and do shrug it off, then you are “the winner”. If they correct you, do accept the correction. It will not influence your style if you do change your [insert name of the movement] for one day. Do not insist on one way of movement or music or the other. And if you get attacked in the Roda then respond reasonably. Do not use more violence then the other one uses in the game (this might lead to a violence spiral and you should mind that you are the one who has no friends around).

7. Do not criticize. This is actually self-explaining. But I have seen guests arrive and thinking that they know things better and thinking that somebody gives a s…t! It is deeply embarrassing if somebody does this mistake and does usually lead to you getting a lesson in humility by the teacher or one of his better students.

8. Be thankful.It is not your right to be at another group’s training or Roda. It is not your right to play in their bateria or in their Roda. So everything they let you do is actually a favour. Do treat it like this. Be thankful and do express it after the games and after the training or Roda. Go to the teacher/mestre and tell him. Even if you did not like it. A good “Thank you” at the very end might even neutralize some mistakes you made at the end.

9. Do not bitch around afterwards. What happened, happened. You got beaten up in that roda? Maybe not your fault but your responsibility. You went there, right? Nobody forced you. You did not like their game? That is OK. That is the reason why there are different groups. You did not like the teacher/the students? Well, the world is not perfect, right? Your opinion about what happened or what not is maybe very important to you, but refrain from going around and bitching about your experiences in the other group. If there is something wrong with that group than most people do already know anyway. If you bitch around, people will talk about it. And as you do not have control about where your bitching goes to (it might end up at the group where you just been yesterday) it is just better to remain silent.

And if you follow these rules and do go in there, knowing what abilities you have and trying to learn from the other group, then the only thing I can tell you is: Enjoy! It is one of the biggest and most exciting things in Capoeira, when you face another player you dont know in a Roda you dont know! Then you can show if you are a real Capoeirista or not!

AxÉ!

*picture source: www.capoeirayork.com

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Revenge in Capoeira

A little test by the side: You are playing Capoeira in a Roda. Your partner in this circle is better than you are, which is – per se – nothing bad. At some point he does turn his upper body and your inner eye already sees the leg speeding towards you head, so you move into an Esquiva. Suddenly your partner stops his movement, turns his body into the opposite direction and the back of his hand slashes through your face. Several people in the Roda start to laugh. You are angry. What shall you do?

a) Smile. And then directly attack with the worst movement you have in your repertoire.

b) If he uses his hands, you are not gonna back up. Smack him.

c) Alright. He made a nice movement. But attacking him wont solve any problems. So you just shrug it off and swallow your pride.

d) You swallow your pride. But you will never forget. Next time when he doesnt expect it, you will give him back the exact movement he did to you.

So, which option is right? Which is wrong? The experienced Capoeirista will say now: “There is no right or wrong. But there might be smarter moves and not so smart moves, depending on the situation.”

So, no option of the four given is wrong, but one thing I can say (and most of you will think the same). Option d) is used only very rarely.

And now I am gonna tell you something what I heard from Capoeira Angola Mestres and teachers. There is the possibility to “keep” a kick. You get a kick and that one was somehow humiliating (for you)? Keep the kick or the attack in mind. And at an appropriate time, give it back to the same person who did that to you. This appropriate time – at that is the clou about “keeping” – does not have to be the same jogo, or even the same day. You just wait until you see the perfect opportunity. Even if it takes years. And then you strike. I just want you to keep in mind that this option exists. It is not said that all the other options given in the beginning are wrong or right, you can directly strike if you want so – or just forget about it. But there is also a third way.

Ok, now you know that it exists, but apart from the pure existence of this concept there is much more about it. A philosophical aspect which is much more interesting than the pure fact that you can revenge an attack years later. This aspect is malicia in its purity.

First of all: What is the advantage of this approach? I, for example, do not always play fair. When I get angry, tired, bored or when I see that I am physically overpowered I do use some small tricks to at least embarrass, if not annoy the crap out of my partner – or to overpower him by pure Malicia. Sometimes I just DO kick, even if I could also not kick. Everytime I do one of these attacks or fintas I know that my partner will not like that. Thus, I know he might feel the urge to answer me in a proper way. Usually such an answer comes directly. So, directly after a mean movement of mine, I am usually very careful and harder to catch than in other times. But when the other person “keeps” this kick he has the choice and he will chose a time point where I seem secure – and then he will give me crap back. This is Malicia and as Capoeira is not just pure technique and speed and strength, Malicia is an important part of everything.

But isnt this unhonourable? And isnt revenge a bad thing? Those question can come up. People who ask these questions usually do not see the background Capoeira is coming from. Capoeira was a tool for survival. It was the sport, the art of the African slave who had no rights and who also had no luxury to be generous. Nobody was generous to him. If he did a mistake, he was killed. Africans didnt have the luxury of being equally treated, they were literally called ‘pieces’, they were ‘goods’. You trade them, you use them, you throw them away. And after the abolition of the slavery in Brazil 1888 this did not change. After that Black Brazilians were not slaves, but did have little rights. Jobless, Rightless and without any social value, a lot of Blacks landed in the suburbs of the bigger cities. Here they tried to survive. In a world which does not care about honour. What those people do care about was Do I survive or not? and that did include some unfair measures. This did include some malandragem. Capoeira grew in these times and learned a lot about life. Capoeira is the philosophy of the small man, who already has seen misery. Honour and Truth and other virtues are nice, but at the end they do not feed your stomach. And the same does apply to the Roda, as it is a representation of the world. Once in a while rules are broken. And if this happens you better be prepared. And once in a while – and now I am coming back to the revenge – it is not a good idea to revenge a received kick directly, but to wait, wait until the one who gave the first kick does forget. This can be much more efficient and is much safer for you as a player than direct response, because, as I said, the other one does expect a fast reponse. This all comes down to one truth I heard once (or maybe read, I’m not entirely sure about that):

The violator will forget about his victim, but the victim will never forget the violator.”

There is another lesson Capoeira gives in there: if you are unfair to a person, do not be surprised if you get that back. Now think about it. Did you ever beat up a Capoeira player which was not as good in Capoeira as you are? Did he left afterwards, or after a while? What if you two meet up in a roda in 5 years, and you did already forget about the violation? Do you think he did forget? I for myself do know who kicked the crap out of me while I was still a bloody beginner. I do remember, and if I have the opportunity, yes, I might use it (although I have to admit that it was a teacher in those times and I think even today he will be able to beat me up, so I might have to wait a couple of years more…). So, if you didnt beat up a beginner yet, do not do it at all. It is not only a bad thing to do (as I said, Capoeira does not take care much about morale…), it is also not smart, because you never know how that person takes it. Be always nice in the Roda, at least to those you do not know. You never know if that person might take it’s (just) revenge in 10 years!

And how do we use this in our daily life? We all know that Capoeira gives lessons in life. The lesson here is quite easy. a) Do never let urgency or anger set the time when you respond to another person´s acts. b) Or even if you do, do know that that person will expect it. c) Do wait for the perfect time to do some things. Sometimes the perfect time is immediately, but not always. Do keep this in mind. And d) do not mistreat a person because you are able to. If you really have to do that, do mind that the other person will want to take her revenge, if not now, then later. Be prepared.

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Express yourself!

Capoeira is, as you people might have heard a lot, a conversation (among other things). And in Capoeira Angola this is even more true than in other forms. With this post I won’t go into the technical play itself, because that is something everybody learns, when he is training Capoeira. I want to put the emphasize on the little details, which makes the Game not only nice, or very good, but beautiful and entertaining. Why do I make such a difference? Well, let’s say in recent times I have seen a lot of Capoeiristas who have a really good play in the Roda. They are fast, have technical abilities beyond my own, have good reflexes and are generally more athletic than I am. So when you watch them playing, yes, you will say “it’s a good player”. But some of these players were lacking something. Something which is not directly bound to the movements they learn in everyday’s classes.

And then I remembered one incidence. Once upon a time… an Angoleiro (that’s me) was quite new in town. And as there was no Capoeira Angola group he was at least willing to visit a group of modern Capoeira. It was quite a beginner’s class, and there were some people who had never seen an Angoleiro playing. And as it came to the roda, the teacher of course wanted to play with this Angoleiro. The game itself was ok, nothing the Angoleiro really enjoyed, but also not too rough or ugly. Well, and at the end of the day one of the beginners came to the Angoleiro and said. “You’re playing so nice. It has much more expression what you are doing.”

Now do not jump on my throat. I am not trying to show off here. I know that there is still a lot I have to change with my game, too. And compared to the expressive games of some people I met in the Roda I am as expressive as a fridge. And I am also not telling that only Angoleiros can play an expressive game. That wouldnt be the truth.

What I am saying is that in Capoeira Angola there is a lot of emphasize in expression – and that expression does sometimes make the difference between a nice and a beautiful game.

We should now come down to the question: where is the places where you can express yourself and what are the things you can change?

 Basically there are two possibilities, where you can express yourself in the Roda: while playing music or while playing the Game.

Playing music

It does not matter if you are standing in the Chorus or at the Bateria, all you should and have to do is: give everything to make the music beautiful. This reminds me of one sentence my first teacher told me: “You are not making music for yourself, but for the ones who are playing in the middle.” This does mean two things. a) try to make nice music. I know, not everybody is born with a talent for music, neither am I (actually in school I wasn’t even allowed to play the triangle because I was disturbing the class!). The best thing you can do is just give your best. Try to sing the way you hear your Mestre sing. Try to sing the way you hear it on CD’s and so on. Do practise singing and playing the instruments, because you will not be able to play beautiful music when you are not even able to play the berimbau. If you sing, especially if you take the lead, do not mumble something. Sing out loud. And even when you are just able to keep this up for 15 seconds, those 15 seconds are worth more than 5 minutes of mumbled singing. But there is also the second meaning of the things my teacher said. If you are playing music, do not get lost. I know of some pretty good Berimbau players who, once they get the Viola, can play variations I never heard of. And keep up variating for half an hour without getting back to the basic rhythm (at least that is what it seems to me sometimes…). But the same person did sometimes get lost in his own music. He was not listening anymore, he was not watching anymore, he had his eyes closed and was playing his really nice music, which was just not fitting to the rest of the Roda. Never forget that the music is the sum of all the musicians in the circle.

Playing the Game

The situation is different inside the Roda. There we only have two players. The Game is the sum of his/her and your actions. Thus, you can make the difference in playing a beautiful, expressive Game. How?

Start right of with your movements. Do not underestimate the difference between a usual kick and a Chapa which is perfectly in rhythm with the rest of the Game. And, and this is most important, do not forget that Capoeira is also a dance. Dances do have a rhythm, do have symmetry and esthetic values (where I won’t go into detail now). They are not just kicking the crap out of your partner. This is a lot about controlling yourself, your emotions and your movements. It is much harder to hit a person beautifully than just placing the hit…

The second thing you can change is your facial expressions. You might say this is ridiculous? It is not. Even if you would not care about the beauty of your game you have to understand that your face does tell tales. A Jogo de Angola is full of little pitfalls, full of fintas and full of malicia. An ability Angoleiros have to develop is reading your partner. An unwritten law in Capoeira is that you should watch the face of your partner while playing. Why? If you only concentrate on the body movements of the person, you will exactly see the movements coming when they are coming. Add your own personal reaction time and you will see that you have not much time left to respond. Especially if it is an unexpected and dangerous movement. When watching the face of your partner and when you are able to read the face then you will see the kicks coming before the legs even started moving. You might even see which kick will come next, and where it is going. I am not kidding you. It is possible, you just have to watch. And if you meet a person who can read faces then you have a serious disadvantage if you do not manage to hide intentions. Do not stare at the place where you are kicking at. Do try to develop a poker-face, never revealing when you are going to kick. Smile at your partner, just a millisecond before you are playing the worst martello you have in your arsenal. This is a tactical advantage. And it is more than that. It is so enjoying to watch a person who has perfect control over his facial expressions! The smiling, the laughing, the fear, the grudge, the relaxation, the concentration. All of these are beautiful to see, especially if they come in variations. And it is even better when both players do this. When they communicate. It is then like watching a street theater, where the players try to tell us a story, a story which is just being created in the roda.

The rituals

 This is some kind of extra and very important for Angoleiros. I will not go into the details of different rituals you have in Capoeira Angola. Learning and using the rituals of Capoeira Angola is of high importance for an expressive, beautiful Capoeira Angola game. There is the mysterious and obscure part of Capoeira Angola, which does have his own fascination if shown in the Game. When you are a player of modern Capoeira and you show that you have knowledge of (some of) the rituals, you are much appreciated. It is knowledge which is not farspread, even among Angoleiros. And having seen them and imitating is something different than using them in the right timing and with the right expressions. What I refer to are the rituals at the Pé do Berimbau, the Chamada in the Game and some of the less known rituals taking place during the Game. I will not get into details (for now), but I thought the list would be incomplete without the rituals.

But beware, also here you have the same as while playing music. You are not alone. You have your partner in the Roda. Even if you do not like that particular person, your game can only be beautiful if you do integrate him/her into it. If you do a one-man-show you have two possible bad outcomes. a) People might think it’s entertaining, but they will also think that you are a show off and egocentric and so on. b) The person you are playing with might not be happy with this. And if he is able, he might even show you that he does not like your One-Man-Show. So, as always in Capoeira Angola, be careful. Do take care of your game, do try to play expressively. Do try to play a beautiful game with all the music, the expressions and the rituals, but do never forget that you are not alone and that Capoeira is something that only does work TOGETHER!

And now, I will get in front of my mirror and try some funny expressions.

Picture source: http://www.ficaoakland.org

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Jogo de Dentre, Jogo de Fora – the Beauty of an Angola Game

This topic is quite difficult to handle, because it is about things which are hard to explain or to grasp rationally. It is about beauty. You hear a lot of people say that this or that game in a Capoeira Roda was expecially cool, exciting or beautiful. And we should all know that when you are playing in the Roda yourself, your aim is not (only) to defeat your partner or to show your dominance, but much more to display a beautiful game.

I will for now concentrate on one part of the beauty of an Angola game: Jogo de Dentre and Jogo de Fora.

These two words should be familiar to most of you people, because there is actually a really nice and much known song about it, going like this:

“Jogo de Dentre, Jogo de Fora, jogo bonito é Jogo de Angola”… and so on.

So what are these two games? Roughly translated they are “the Inside Game” and “the Outside Game”. The easiest explanation is that in a Jogo de Dentre you are very close to your parter. And I mean very close. Actually you can smell the other person, do maybe feel his breathe and you are usually in the reach of a couple of inches. A head-butt is an alltime possibility in such a game. And the Jogo de Fora is the Game when you are in a distance to your partner. Still in a distance where you can hit the person (as in Capoeira Angola you have to be close to your partner), but also in a distance, where just a slight step backwards or to the side does save you from a kick.

There are other general differences (although they sometimes only partially apply):

The Jogo de Dentre is usually played in a low position, with a lot of Queda de Rins, Tesouras, Au de Cabeça (Cartwheel with your head on the ground), Rabo de Arraias, Cabeçadas, Negativas de Angola (that’s basically being flat on the ground…) and so on. It is also usually played in a slower speed, but can rapidly change its speed. So don’t rely on it. The Jogo de Dentre is also considered a more complicated and harder game than the Jogo de Fora.

The Jogo de Fora is a Game where the players are more upright. Meia Luas, Martellos, Esquivas and things alike are more likely to happen here. Basically it is the kind of game which is much more compatible with modern variants of Capoeira. it is also likely to be played to a faster rhythm.

But the true beauty of the Capoeira Game does not come from the different parts, from the Jogo de Dentre and the Jogo de Fora, and all the other things related to Capoeira Angola, like the Chamada, the music, the ladainhas, the rituals and so on. It is the dynamic change between these parts. Especially the dynamics between Jogo de Dentre and Jogo de Fora. A game which does consist of only one of these types of games is usually not existing. Jogo de Dentre is a hard game and really nice to see, but it is also exhausting. A Jogo de Fora is maybe fast, but easy – you always have the possibility to escape. On the other side it is technically not very complicated.

So a beautiful Angola Game does (for example) begin with the two players entangling in a Jogo de Dentre, slowly checking the limits of the other person. Seeing how the other is responding, creating the space between you and your fellow Capoeirista. After a while the room the two Angoleiros have achieved will grow, until there is actually space between them, space for some far-reaching kicks and some fast escapes. In this game for space at some point the other person will get closer, maybe hoping to trap the other one, maybe because he is smaller and is not able to handle the other person. And suddenly the room shrinks again, leading to a Jogo de Dentre. And sometimes in between, all this is given up and a Chamada takes place.

The dynamics between Jogo de Dentre and Jogo de Fora can be imagined like an invisible elastic band between the two players. Once in a while it gets stretched because the two players are far from each other. But this will automatically lead to the players getting closer to each other again. Until the tension of the band is so little that they can create room between each other once again… and so on.

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